Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Schrodinger's database

The Center for Public Integrity reports that the US Department of Justice has denied a "Freedom of Information" request for a copy of the Foreign Agent Registration Database. Not because the data is secret, though, since you can request copies of specific items (at 50 cents a page), but because "simply attempting to make an electronic copy of the database 'could result in a major loss of data, which would be devastating'."

Yep, copying the db could destroy it. Its what one wag has dubbed the "quantum database", while Network World's Adam Gaffin calls it "The Heisenberg-uncertainty database," after the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, postulated by Werner Heisenberg and generally rendered as "you can't measure both position and motion of an object.

I'd rather call it Schrodinger's database (after Erwin Schrodinger) because of the seeming relationship to the theory which postulates that the observation and/or measurement of an object affects the state of the object ("Schrodinger's Cat"). Trying to "measure" the database (by copying it) will allow us to observe directly that it has been destroyed - evidently some years ago.

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